RUSHMOOR Council’s Labour leader has stunned fellow councillors by revealing he is standing down.

Cllr Andy Straker, who has represented the North Town area of Aldershot for nine years, has decided “it is time for new blood”.

He will not be standing in next month’s local elections and Rushmoor’s Labour Group will now have to decide who will replace him.

Cllr Straker, who led the council during a Lib-Lab coalition in the late 1990s, denied suggestions he was standing aside because his views on a number of issues differed with that of the party hierarchy.

“It’s just that I’ve been on there for nine years and have done enough and had enough and thought that it was time to go,” he said.

“Rushing home from work and flying out the front door has lost its appeal. I have to admit I find it quite difficult being a councillor and want some time to myself.”

Some local politicians had wondered whether Cllr Straker’s departure was hastened by the Iraq conflict, but he was scathing about that.

“I have to say that I am really disappointed. Not only are they misinformed, they have not bothered to find out the truth. It’s opportunist electioneering in the worst possible taste,” he said.

He said his brother was with the Royal Marines in Iraq and that although he wanted to see him home safely, he agreed with the Prime Minister’s stance.

“Saddam Hussein is a fascist and you cannot have much sympathy for him,” he said.

Cllr Straker’s leaving front line local politics was greeted with regret by allies and opponents alike.

Fellow Labour North Town Cllr Keith Dibble paid tribute to Cllr Straker and his work in the community over the last decade.

“Andy is a very close colleague and a good friend and he has been an outstanding group leader for a number of years,” he said.

Asked whether the Labour vote was now on thin ice without Cllr Straker’s electoral familiarity, Cllr Dibble said: “I think that the team of North Town councillors has worked very hard. If you vote for a Labour councillor in North Town you vote for the team.”

Conservative Cabinet member Cllr David Clifford said although he and Cllr Straker were opposites, he still respected him as a local councillor.

“Despite the fact that we are poles apart politically, I can never remember him being personally spiteful. I respect him for that. That is not to mean he’s not been robust,” he said.

“He’s been a good leader and they (the Labour group) are going to find it a real problem replacing him because I don’t think they’ve got anyone big enough to fill his boots.”